On his maiden visit to India, after he “was electrocuted by WPP”, Martin Sorrell made a strong case for the leaders of the business to pay attention to the employees at the frontline.
Speaking at an event organised by the ZEE network, Sorrell said, “I got accused of treating the business as my own. But I seriously question whether the people at the very top of the business ever know about what people are doing at the frontline.” Emphasising on the lack of initiative by professional managers to travel across the world, Sorrell said that the concept of absentee landlords did not work in business. “If you are running an MNC business, you have to travel,” he said. He added that no senior WPP executive had visited markets like India in the last six-eight months.
“That's insanity. I don't think people at the top of the business know what people at the front end are doing,” he said in reference to the terms of shrinking margins in the media services business, giving away incentives or extending payment deadlines to clients.
Commenting on the way networks are placed, he had a rare and special praise for former advertising rivals who frequently traded barbs with him, at one point of time. “Publicis has the best strategy,” he said referring to the group’s ‘Power of One’ but was quick to add that the implementation was going to be an issue that could see the eclipse of many of the agency’s hallowed agency brands like Leo Burnett or Saatchi & Saatchi among others.
In the same vein he continued that, “Omnicom does not have a strategy, but excellent companies.” Referring to his former organisation WPP, Sorrell said it was stuck somewhere in between Omnicom and Publicis. “Dentsu in the best place.... Problem is that they have the Japanese,” he said.
Earlier in the conversation, Sorrell had heaped special praise about the way the Japanese advertising major had gone about its digital strategy, including events like the acquisition of Merkle, where Sorrell’s S4 came back with a bloodied nose, twice over. (S4 was one of the bidders for Merkle.)
Saying that his new company, S4 was purely about technology, Sorrell had special mention for Google, Facebook, Amazon, Tencent and Alibaba as the fearsome five. Add Microsoft and Apple to this and they are the seven sisters, he said adding that the last time some companies were referred to as the seven sisters were the energy giants of the early 20th century. “Jeff Bezos is the John Rockefeller of today,” he added.
He said that, companies like Oracle Salesforce and Adobe would make it a perfect ten list of companies that could shape the future. These companies put together have crossed a market cap of a trillion dollars which puts them on par with the GDP of mid-sized nations. “They are very strong and unstoppable,” he said.
Speaking about the foray of S4 into the three areas of data, content and media services, he said that the industry is not disrupted yet. “The new kid on the block will be so differentiated and successful. That would be our biggest revenge,” he said only half-jokingly.
The idea for getting new business would be to go in through the digital door and then take out traditional budgets, something that had been already in practice by a set of agencies including those owned by the WPP group. He said that the focus would also be getting the long tail of small and medium businesses to grow S4C beyond the USD 150 mn peanut that it currently is.